Happiness is good for the heart

You can take a daily baby aspirin, get plenty of exercise, and eat right, but if you want a healthy heart, you may also need to find a way to see the glass half full instead of half empty. A new study has revealed that happy, optimistic people are more likely to be heart-healthy too – with a reduced risk for stroke and heart attack. The study looked at two groups of people who had similar risks for heart disease; the happy group were significantly less likely than their pessimistic peers to have a heart attack or stroke.

According to Harvard research fellow Julia K. Boehm, PhD, the lead researcher in the study, “Historically, studies have focused on the negative impact of depression and anxiety. We wanted to look at the flip side to see how psychological well-being – things like happiness, optimism, and having a sense of purpose – might impact risk.” 

Having a healthy outlook on life may lead to making better lifestyle choices. The happy group tended to eat healthy, get enough sleep, and exercise more than the group with the negative outlook. Says Boehm, “This suggests that bolstering psychological strengths like happiness and optimism could improve cardiovascular health.”

If you struggle with negativity, good heart health does not have to be out of reach; optimism is something that one can learn through behavior therapy, positive psychology, and positive thinking. As you’re focusing on taking other important measures to improve your health and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke, such as losing weight, eating right, and quitting smoking, you can start retraining your mind to seek the positive.

The Harvard study was corroborated by a Columbia study that revealed the “positive effect.” This study placed the participant’s positivity on a 5-point scale; even moving up one point on the scale resulted in a 22% reduction in risk.

Dr. Bryan Bruno, MD chairman of the department of psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, explained in an interview, “The negative impact of depression on heart attack and stroke risk is well established. Most cardiologists are aware of the importance of treating depression in patients with heart disease. Study after study has shown that once someone has had a cardiovascular event, their prognosis is a lot worse if they have untreated depression. Helping people become more optimistic is often a goal of therapy.”

The studies point to a link between optimism and lower risk, but do not yet show a causal relationship. More research is needed, but combined with other research that shows that a positive outlook can reduce pain and discomfort during medical procedures and reduce the need for drugs, it is definitely something the medical community is paying attention to.

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